Guess Who Wrote This?

Guess who wrote this report. I’ll quote a bunch of it:

The climate change crisis is far from over. The decade 2000-2010 is the hottest ever recorded and data reveals each decade over the last 50 years to be hotter than the previous one. The planet is enduring more and more heat waves and rain levels—high and low—that test the outer bounds of meteorological study.

The failure of the USA, Australia and Japan to implement relevant legislation after the Copenhagen Accord, as well as general global inaction, might lead people to shrug off the climate issue. Many are quick to doubt the science. Amid such ambiguity a discontinuity is building as expert and public opinion diverge.

This divergence is not sustainable!

Society continues to face a dilemma posed here: a failure to reduce emissions now will mean considerably greater cost in the future. But concerted global action is still too far off given the extreme urgency required.

CO2 price transparency needed

Some countries forge ahead with national and local measures but many are moving away from market-based solutions and are punishing traditional energy sources. Cap-and-trade systems risk being discredited. The EU-Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) has failed to deliver an adequate CO2 price. Industry lobbying for free allowance allocations is driving demands for CO2 taxes to eliminate perceived industry windfalls. In some cases this has led to political stalemate.

The transparency of a CO2 price is central to delivering least-cost emission reductions, but it also contributes to growing political resistance to cap-and-trade
systems. Policy makers are looking to instruments – like mandates – where emissions value is opaque. This includes emission performance standards (EPSs) for electricity plants and other large fixed sources. Unfortunately, policies aimed at building renewable energy capacity are also displacing more natural gas than coal where the CO2 price is low or absent. This is counter-productive when it comes to reducing emissions. Sometimes the scale of renewables capacity also imposes very high system costs. At other times, policy support for specific renewables is maintained even after the technology reaches its efficient scale, as is the case in the US.

The recession has raised a significant issue for the EU-ETS: how to design cap-and-trade systems in the face of economic and technological uncertainty? Phase III of the ETS risks delivering a structurally low CO2 price due to the impact of the recession on EU emissions. A balanced resetting of the cap should be considered. It is more credible to introduce a CO2 price floor ahead of such shocks than engage in the ad hoc recalibration of the cap in response to them. This would signal to investors that unexpected shortfalls in emissions would be used in part to step up reductions and reduce uncertainty in investments associated with the CO2 price. This is an important issue for the design of Phase IV of the ETS.

Climate too low a priority

Structural climate policy problems aside, the global recession has moved climate concerns far down the hierarchy of government objectives. The financial crisis and Gulf of Mexico oil spill have also hurt trust in the private sector, spawning tighter regulation and leading to increased risk aversion. This hits funding and political support for new technologies, in particular Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) where industry needs indemnification from some risk. Recent moves by the EU and the US regarding long-term liabilities show this support is far from secured. Government support for technology development may also be hit as they work to cut deficits.

In this environment of policy drift and increasing challenge to market-based solutions, it is important to remain strongly focused on least-cost solutions today and advances in new technologies for the future. Even if more pragmatic policy choices prevail, it is important that they are consistent with, and facilitate the eventual implementation of market-based solutions.

Interdependent ecosystems approach

Global policy around environmental sustainability focuses almost exclusively on climate change and CO2 emissions reduction. But since 2008, an approach which considers interdependent ecosystems has emerged and gradually gained influence.

This approach argues that targeting climate change and CO2 alone is insufficient. The planet is a system of inextricably inter-related environmental processes and each must be managed in balance with the others to sustain stability.

Research published by the Stockholm Resilience Centre in early 2009 consolidates this thinking and proposes a framework based on ‘biophysical environmental subsystems’. The Nine Planetary Boundaries collectively define a safe operating space for humanity where social and economic development does not create lasting and catastrophic environmental change.

According to the framework, planetary boundaries collectively determine ecological stability. So far, limits have been quantified for seven boundaries which, if surpassed, could result in more ecological volatility and potentially disastrous consequences. As Table 1 shows, three boundaries have already been exceeded. Based on current trends, the limits of others are fast approaching.

For the energy industry, CO2 management and reduction is the chief concern and the focus of much research and investment. But the interdependence of the other systems means that if one limit is reached, others come under intense pressure. The climate-change boundary relies on careful management of freshwater, land use, atmospheric aerosol concentration, nitrogen–phosphorus, ocean and stratospheric boundaries. Continuing to pursue an environmental policy centered on climate change will fail to preserve the planet’s environmental stability unless the other defined boundaries are addressed with equal vigour.

10 Responses to Guess Who Wrote This?

  1. Speed says:

    Below is from a 2008 publication from the same source. It is one scenario they see possible for the world in 2050.

    National governments … focus their energy policies on supply levers because curbing the growth of energy demand – and hence economic growth – is simply too unpopular for politicians to undertake. A lack of international cooperation means that individual countries are unwilling to act unilaterally in a way that will damage their own economic growth. The result is a relatively uncoordinated range of national mandates and incentives for developing indigenous energy supplies where available, including coal, heavy oils, biofuels, and other renewables, which leads to a patchwork of local standards and technologies.

    They believe that it is in the long term best interest of all actors (individuals, governments, businesses) to take a realistic and long term view of the energy (and ecological and economic and social and political) situation and respond in a measured and rational way. Neither shocks nor surprises are in anyone’s best long term interests.

  2. WebHubTel says:

    Shell Oil? That newsletter was making the rounds at http://theoildrum.com. Certain oil companies are more enlightened than others. Its Royal Dutch Shell after all and they may want to get in the windmill biz.

    I have used a recent Shell oil discovery data set in my work. They are a bit more optimistic than the peak oil analysts but it didn’t make that much of a difference, perhaps a few years deferred. They see the writing on the wall — I think their euphemism for depletion is “planetary boundaries “. My problem is why no one acted sooner in pointing out the issues.

    I spent time writing up The Oil Conundrum because I saw a huge hole in the depletion analysis, which up to that point had been largely heuristics. It was nowhere near as comprehensive as climate science.

    • John Baez says:

      Yes, it’s

      Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050: Signals and Signposts.

      It’s interesting to see their discussion of two scenarios, ‘Blueprint’ and ‘Scramble’. Which one are we heading toward?

      • WebHubTel says:

        It should be blueprint but will likely go scramble as no one is willing to do scenario analysis on energy supplies.
        One aspect on projecting future pathways is having a model that can adapt quickly. As you and Peter Morgan say below, it is impossible to predict future shocks, but having something available as it happens or that can project alternative scenarios is important. That is why I have the Oil Shock Model, which is a simple Markov flow or compartmental network model with the last stage perturbed by events or disruptions.
        The Oil ConunDrum

  3. Peter Morgan says:

    The Shell report has a hole where there should, with the benefit of hindsight, be an analysis of Middle East politics. The G8 or G20 Geopolitics they discuss doesn’t count for much if oil production is seriously disrupted. There’s a TomDispatch analysis from Michael T. Klare out this morning that takes one approach to filling the hole.

    • John Baez says:

      Interesting! Thanks!

      I’ll make this general point so that Phil Henshaw doesn’t feel the need to do so yet again: projections are useful only until processes that you’d neglected start becoming important. Then they projections break down. Or more precisely: while aspects of the old analysis remain useful, the analysis needs to be redone. The time at which this to occur is a random variable, and it would be awfully nice if there were a way to estimate anything about this random variable ahead of time.

  4. A Robinson says:

    “The decade 2000-2010 is the hottest ever recorded and data reveals each decade over the last 50 years to be hotter than the previous one”

    So what? Every decade for the last 400 years was colder than following one. We are still not as warm as we were during the Medieval Warming Period, so obviously it can’t be that bad.

    Besides, our records are not very accurate or consistent. Only in the last thirty years did we switch over to satellites and start including ocean temperatures. Most of the AVERAGE 1.26F rise in the last 150 years has been over Greenland. In a distant second placed are a few spots on the ocean, but it most definitely is not GLOBAL.

    And remember this: CO2 levels rose from 180 to 280ppm at the end of the last glaciation. During that time temps rose a staggering 16F. CO2 levels have risen from 280 to 380 in the last 100 years, and all we have seen is a mere 1.25F rise in temp.

    Where’s the beef?

    • Nathan Urban says:

      Most of what you said is either wrong or misleading.

      There is little strong evidence that the Medieval Warm Period was, globally, warmer than today. We never “switched over to satellites” for temperature measurements; we still use surface stations, in addition to satellites. The surface temperature record has used ocean temperatures for longer than 30 years. High polar latitudes have warmed much faster than other latitudes, but the warming is not localized to Greenland, and most certainly is global. The global warming from the Last Glacial Maximum was not 16 F; that’s probably a Greenland temperature (and, as you noted, Greenland warms more). Globally it was more like 5-6 C (~9-11 F). Probably about half of that was due to a large ice albedo feedback from continental ice sheets which are not present today. The remaining warming is commensurate with modern estimates of the climate sensitivity to CO2. What people care most about is not the warming that has occurred so far, but the much larger warming that will occur in the future.

    • Here’s some beef you should investigate: Look for today’s (i.e. 2011) most northern commercial vineyards. You need to update your fabulous “Global Warming FAQ”…

  5. Phil Henshaw says:

    The beef is in the physics. The scientists wouldn’t be talking about at all for the very reasons you site if they didn’t quite clearly understand that increasingly blocking radiation in the atmosphere causes an irreversible process of heat accumulation for the planet.

    The basics also include the direct observation of outer atmosphere cooling, indicating that the earth is radiating less heat to space. Having the outer atmosphere cooling as the troposphere is warming creates a steeper temperature gradient for convection, as a direct and unavoidable cause storms of greater number or intensity.

    Is that helpful?

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